Why I’m speaking out about my postpartum PTSD trauma
Buffy Williams, Labour Senedd member for the Rhondda
Postpartum PTSD is a serious issue.
In Wales alone over 9,000 women are suffering, sometimes in silence.
Mothers have kept their symptoms to themselves so the condition has remained largely invisible.
Many mothers unfortunately are wrongly diagnosed with postpartum depression, when in fact the trauma of a difficult birth or events directly concerning or complications after a birth can leave a mother suffering with postpartum PTSD.
This can include flashbacks of traumatic moments in the delivery room that has the mother reliving the fear of the trauma, symptoms of anxiety and not wanting to talk or be reminded of the events surrounding the birth, troubling dreams and nightmares, and also feelings of hopelessness.
The birth of a child is one of the most intense and emotional experiences in a woman’s life, and the best planed births can quickly become an event that leaves a new mother with significant psychological impairment.
PTSD can have a detrimental effect on the mother and infant bond, causing distress to both mother and child, early intervention is vital, and we are so lucky that the dedicated midwives and health professionals who are involved in the care of an expectant, or new mother are key for this early diagnosis to take place.
One study showed that 45% of women experienced traumatic childbirth and up to 4.6% of women developed PTSD. There are many reasons for a traumatic childbirth an emergency C section or injuries suffered during birth are two of the many reasons this can occur.
My own personal experience, was not a traumatic birth, but the traumatic events that followed directly after and as a direct result of the birth.
Those events have, and still do impact on my everyday life.
I was told repeatedly by midwives and consultants how lucky I was, lucky to have survived and lucky to have had a quick-thinking midwife. Lucky – lucky was a word I became used to hearing, over the days weeks and months following the birth of my daughter.
But, lucky was the last thing I was feeling, frightened, traumatised, confused, alone and anxious these were words more fitting to my mindset. In some ways I suppose I was lucky, lucky I had a team of dedicated midwifes who soon became friends and consultants who were caring and understanding. The care I received at hospital and when I eventually returned home, was nothing short of outstanding.
However, how many new mothers and mothers to be will not be lucky?
How many mothers and lone mothers are suffering in silence?
How many husbands, partners, families and friends are trying to support and care for a mother who is traumatised?
Sometimes the birth partner who witnesses the upsetting experience, also takes their own measure of distress away from the birth, who is there to support them?
There are many groups and organisations available to support mothers through this time, but, when you leave the care of the medical professionals, and you are back in the family unit, you begin to worry, worry that you are a failure, worry that you are letting people down, you feel that you can’t ask for help without being negatively judged and you start to feel that no matter where you turn, no one really understands.
How many mothers right now are feeling this way, how many mothers and families are being left to struggle alone? How many children will feel this negative impact, or grow up with strained relationships within the family unit?
Support services available to women in Wales who suffer with postpartum PTSD are available through perinatal mental health teams that are set up in each local health board.
Each local health board across Wales offers varying levels of support for mothers and families who are in need of mental health support. Access to these services requires referral through GP or health visitors.
Some mothers are unfortunately wrongly diagnosed with post-natal depression, we need to make sure that our GPs, midwives and health visitors are supplied with the tools and training they need to best care for those mothers who are most vulnerable at a time in their lives that they should feel safe, content and cared for.
With that said I welcome the new mother and baby unit in Swansea bay, this is a step in the right direction when it comes to the health and wellbeing of mothers pre and post birth, until now mothers who have needed serious mental health care were admitted to acute mental health facilities without their babies or would need to travel to a specialist unit in England, we must do more to combat the stigma of postnatal depression and peripartum PTSD, we must ensure mothers have confidence to confide in our fantastic health care professionals. I believe that the mother and baby unit in Swansea Bay does this, and should be replicated across all 7 Welsh health boards.
I want to pay tribute to all maternity staff in Wales, I know the team that cared for me went above and beyond the call of duty.
There are many support groups such as Mums Matter by MIND Cymru and whilst we celebrate progress in specialist care in perinatal mental health it is vital we do more, it is vital we listen better and it is vital that we all work to remove all stigma surrounding any forms of mental health.
I hope mothers who suffer with any form of PTSD take strength in the knowledge that they are not alone, please reach out, ask for help. I’d urge the minister to build on the good practice of the Swansea bay mothers unit and ensure mothers who suffer any form of PTSD or depression are better supported in the future.
This speech was delivered by Buffy Williams in the Senedd